The Fight for $15 Reaches Illinois Women

The Fight for $15 has won a victory in Illinois: state lawmakers have passed a bill through the House and Senate to raise the minimum wage to $15 across the state by 2022. In Illinois, 41 percent of workers make less than $15 an hour and will receive a much needed raise if the governor signs this bill. At just $8.25 per hour, the current minimum wage in Illinois leaves a mother with two children living in poverty, even if she works full time; a raise to $15 would make a big difference for working people struggling to support themselves and their families.
Women and people of color stand to gain the most from the potential raise. More than 6 in 10  minimum wage workers in Illinois are women, and nearly half (46 percent) of all working women in Illinois make less than $15 an hour (compared to 36 percent of working men). People of color also are overrepresented in low-wage jobs in Illinois. While 35 percent of white workers in Illinois make under $15 an hour, more than 60 percent of Latino workers and almost 50 percent of black workers are paid such low wages. Raising the minimum wage not only helps women and their families make ends meet, it also addresses some of the economic inequalities that have arisen from race and gender discrimination and can help narrow the gender wage gap.
Tipped workers would also see a pay increase under the minimum wage bill—but not to $15 an hour. Currently, employers in Illinois can pay as little as $4.95 an hour to their tipped workers, who are expected to make up the rest of their income through tips. Because employers would still be permitted to pay their tipped workers 40 percent less than the minimum wage, the new bill would only increase the minimum cash wage for tipped workers to $9 per hour by 2022.
This unequal treatment for tipped and untipped workers is the one big flaw in the Illinois bill.  Tipped workers shouldn’t be left out of the Fight for $15. Across the country, tipped workers are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as workers overall. In Illinois, 65 percent of tipped workers are women, many of whom are single working moms. Almost one-fifth of all female tipped workers live in poverty (17.3 percent), and women of color working as tipped employees are even more likely to live in poverty (22.4 percent). Women and their families deserve a stable, livable income so they can plan for their families’ needs, rather than having to depend on the uncertain flux of tips to pay for important essentials like quality child care and health care for their families.
Nevertheless, despite the smaller increase for tipped workers, this bill still represents important progress in the Fight for $15 and is now heading to Governor Bruce Rauner’s desk. Unfortunately, although he has stated that he supports some kind of minimum wage increase, Governor Rauner has called the $15 bill “extreme” and indicated that he will not sign it, even though other large states like New York and California are already well on their way to a $15 minimum wage. Governor Rauner should prioritize the wellbeing of women and their families and give low-wage workers in Illinois the raise they deserve.